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Splatterhouse

AC/DC once released a song called “If You Want Blood, You’ve Got It.” Little did anyone know that the band was really singing about the rebirth of the Splatterhouse series released decades later. It’s amazing the song didn’t end up on the soundtrack—it would’ve been a match made in heaven. But blood doesn’t do as much for a video game as it used to. Gamers have grown so used to seeing blood ‘n’ guts that it’s like our coffee: the day just hasn’t started without it. Like the Mortal Kombat series has proven in the past, blood can only cover up the flaws in a game for so long.

Splatterhouse 2010 is an amalgamation of all three previous games. College students Rick Taylor and his girlfriend Jen are visiting the scary old mansion of Dr. West for a school newspaper article only to have her kidnapped by slimy monsters and Rick lying in a kiddie pool’s worth of his own blood. A priceless artifact he’d recently knocked over, called the Terror Mask, starts talking to him with promises of power and revenge. Rick puts it on, getting some emergency testosterone transfusion and turns into a hulking maniac. With his new beach bully physique, Rick makes up his mind to turn any monsters in his way into Smucker’s Jam.

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A desire to see crimson fly onscreen like Gallagher set loose in the world’s biggest melon patch is practically required to enjoy this game. Incalculable gallons of blood splatter onscreen, on the floor, on Rick–chances are if you opened up the instruction booklet you were hit by a fountain of spewing blood. Anyone with bloodlust isn’t going to walk away from this unsatisfied.

Stylistically there’s a definite comic book-y feel with vaguely cell-shaded looking graphics and a ridiculous death metal soundtrack that provides a melodic quality to the whole bashing of monstrosities with their own severed limbs. If that stuff turns you off, along with too many horror movie references to name in a sentence, then you’d best go somewhere else.

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Yet for a few strange design choices and flaws, all isn’t well in horror-land. For starters, Jim Cummings voices the Terror Mask and basically eggs Rick on through gallows humor and vaguely-threatening dialog to spill more blood than a clumsy surgeon in the O.R., and he chimes in with the same gags during combat sequences. Since this game is a solid ninety-percent combat it gets really repetitive really fast.

For a modern game, Splatterhouse cuts little slack. Even with the ability to siphon blood (health) from enemies once your bar has been filled, players will still find the game kicking their ass left and right. This is partially due to constantly getting crowded by enemies and their unfortunate ability to stun-lock with one attack, but also due to some imprecision when it comes to the combat.

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Sure you can power up and unlock new moves when you get enough blood (the currency, not the health, although it is an arbitrary distinction), but Rick’s meaty fists lack of fluidity and appropriate stopping power always keep him several rungs below action heroes like Bayonetta and Kratos. There are plenty of weapons to even-up the score, though: pipes, machetes, shotguns, 2x4s, and cleavers, but those degrade quickly and break after one blow when you’re using it against bigger enemies.

Then there’s the visuals. The game has a low-budget look to it most of the time, but on occasion the character models will look good, and for some reason the way the monsters are rendered during the loading screens seem way more advanced than how they’re rendered in-game. There’s really no way not to notice them because of how abysmally long the load times are. Why so much effort was spent on turning the load times into mini-movies is anyone’s guess.

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There’s a certain lack of focus that plagues the overall design of Splatterhouse. Take for instance the occasions where the game shifts to a 2D perspective, complete with retro music and jumping sequences. It’s like the developers were toying around with the idea of making the game into an XBLA/PSN downloadable. They’re very bothersome and jarring, plus the jumping sections can be pull-out-your-hair frustrating.

Quick Time Events are shoehorned into the game in the form of Splatter Kills (animated insta-kills) and the occasional button press to avoid death, but the execution leaves much to be desired. They’ll come out of nowhere and it’s much too easy to miss them, or in some cases you’ll be ready for them but because you weren’t mashing the button like crazy you lost. There are even some cases where the game decides to go against things it previously established, like the portal sequences. Before these were non-interactive cutscenes, but after a certain point in the game you now have to help Rick dodge pieces of debris in the portals. While I’m sure a lot of this was done with the sake of variety in mind, it largely comes off as just the game changing the rules on us.

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Splatter Kills, which should’ve been the centerpiece in Splatterhouse‘s combat system, are also done half-assed. Why are there only three that keep getting played over and over? Surely they could’ve put more thought and effort (not to mention creativity) in this? Rick either squishes their head in, tears their arm off, or rips their torso from their bottom. They’re cool to watch once, and only once, but after that boy are they tiresome. Look at a game series like God of War. There are so many ways to finish off an enemy it never gets boring. If you’re going to steal a page from somebody else’s book you should at least implement as well as the guy you stole it from, right?

Splatterhouse is wildly gory and wildly uneven. It has unrealized potential, and maybe if the kinks were worked out it would’ve been a great action game. As it stands, Splatterhouse is a cheeky ode to gory, VHS horror films that uses blood as its biggest selling point. Unfortunately, there’s not much behind all that blood other than a clunky combat system, so-so visuals, and obnoxious 2D segments.

5 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in March 2010.

Gentle persuasion

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